The plan was to run The Lordship Runabout, a race I’ve run every year since I started this madness. That may sound like a lot of times but I’ve only been doing it three years. It’s a small local race that draws less than 100 people and most of them high school track and cross country kids. At the first 10th of a mile I am already out of the pack by the first quarter mile I can’t see them anymore. Freaking kids and their youth, blast them. I double check the website for the gun time and I notice it says SUN. Sept 11. Well it’s hard to screw up Sept 11th, I was darn sure it today, which means I missed the race. Sure I was bummed, but also rather relieved since my pre-race training consisted of getting polluted with the crazy girlfriends on Friday night and I was still severely hung-over. Now I could take it easy at the gym or do some maintenance miles. On a whim I scanned a running website for other events and the closest was Waterbury. It wouldn’t hurt to take a peek at the race flyer right? Wow, I couldn’t believe it! Bill Rogers was racing in Waterbury! Anyone alive in the 70’s whether you watched running or not you couldn’t get away for this guy. He is the one who single handily popularized running and got launched into the role of super human mega star after he won Boston and New York back to back. I was about 10. When you’re 10 and you live through events like this it becomes part of the mystique of childhood. It brought me back to laying on the floor in front of the tv rooting him on and my mother yelling at me, I was too close to the RCA I’d ruin my eyes. I inched myself back and when she left the room I inched myself forward again. I wanted to be a runner, I was going to run a marathon, I was completely mesmerized by Bill Rogers. Once the race was over that phase lasted about one hour and then I heard Elton John on radio, it was back to wanting to be a flamboyant piano player.
Thank heavens the race was at 1:30pm. I needed every minute to recover from the cheap low-shelf mix tini drinks the girls forced me to down on Friday night. My expectations for a decent time were low but who cares heck I was going to meet Bill Rogers. Registration was to open at noon I got there at 11:45 and Bill was already at a booth talking to fans. After I registered I made my way over and said hello, and he asked if I wanted an autograph picture and I said “Of course, how much are they?” “They are free.” In this day of celebrities selling their autographs and squeezing every nickel out of their fans, “free” was the nicest word one could ever hear. No one should ever make money off giving a fan an autograph, there is something sad and wrong with selling your autograph to someone in line to meet you. The fans made the effort, they waited, and they love you or at least like you, give them one lousy autograph. I was lucky to have a chat with him and just like all the articles say, Bill is the nicest guy in the world. While I was busy gushing over him, the living legend, he was more concerned on what distances I liked to run and if I was going to run Litchfield. He took a look at my shoes and said “oh you’re a neutral you don’t pronate that’s good.” I kept trying to tell him how in awe of him I was and he kept wanted to talk about what races I’d done and what a good cause this one was. I took my precious autograph photo and moved to the side where I recognized his brother. You can’t miss him, he’s got a crazy demented beard, all grey in two long braids. I began to chat with him about the Runners World article that came out about 6 months ago. He said it made him sound like a drunk, he wasn’t happy with that portrayal. We then discussed the importance of drinking fine scotch or whiskey for the next 20 minutes. I told him of my sad mistake on Friday drinking sub quality booze. He was disappointed in me, I should have known better. The conversation moved to alternative distilling processes. I wanted to take these guys out to the bar after the race but I only had 20 bucks on me and I’m sure that wouldn’t even cover the first round for us. Plus I’m certain I would end up sleeping in my car or in jail afterwards.
I was nervous; I peed four times in one hour. I was afraid I’d line up with the walkers by accident. And then they made the announcement: “10 minutes to start runners take to the street.” This is one of the parts I love, the Rocky Theme plays in my ears when this happens. That slow walk to the starting line. I could not hear the race director at all, he was announcing something I probably needed to know like if the streets are open to traffic or if there is a big hill or landmines we need to dodge. I hoped there would always be someone in front of me I could see so I wouldn’t need to make any course decisions on my own. The starting corral is when I cry, sure nuff- I cried. It didn’t last, the second the gun went off I forgot all about crying and thought a lot more about breathing. 6 mins into the race I looked to my right and Bill Rogers is running next to me. I thought maybe my Gatorade had been spiked with LSD, it was an incredible dream. I’m 10 years old, I’m inside the RCA and I’m running next to that guy from the marathon. He paced with me for 2 minutes. You could tell he was leisurely jogging so that everyone got a chance to run with him, he would crisscross the streets for no reason just to kill time and then he was gone. If I had been doing the Lordship race I’d already be all alone on the road and looking down trying to follow the teenager’s sneaker prints. I ran the first mile 9:35 which for me is amazing then Friday caught me on Sunday. 10:30 and 10:40 for the next two miles. I finished with the same time as my last 5k so no complaints.
After the race, I wandered around and waited for the awards. Bill handed out the trophies and took pictures with everyone. I ate my token bagel with the free bottled water and I was really happy with everything. As I was leaving a man was sitting in a wheelchair had his family around him and they thanked me for coming. The race was to benefit Bob Veillette, a former runner and local hero who had a stroke and is now paralyzed below the eyes. The money goes to pay the expenses to keep him at home and not a nursing home. Bill Rogers picks a lot of his races for the cause. Seeing that man’s family around him today I think Bill picked a great cause.
Race time 32:11